Herbal tea has a long tradition. Mint, lemon balm and monarde are simply a delight, freshly cut or gently dried. Soothing caraway, fennel and aniseed round off the tea herb collection. We have compiled tips on drying and using tea herbs for you.
A look back at the history of herbal tea
There’s a herb for every ailment – as the saying goes. Herbs have been valued for thousands of years as a spice and equally as healing tea plants. In meadows, fields and forests, there was much to be discovered in those days that was suitable for a herbal tea. Our ancestors learned to recognise them, to harvest them at the right time and, above all, to preserve them. And they passed on their experience in handling herbs over many generations. We still benefit from this knowledge today!
Since it was quite laborious to find many herbs in sufficient quantities in nature, herb gardens were established in the Middle Ages at the latest, and first in the monasteries. From then on, tea and medicinal herbs were always available in sufficient quantities, and not only the local ones. Because resourceful nuns and monks introduced plants from other countries to us, experimented with them and left us great books with many herbal recipes.
What the tea herbs need
I follow tradition and grow tea herbs in the garden. As a gardener, I can ensure healthy soil and have some control over the quality of the plants. And I can harvest them at just the right time. The question to ask first is: what does the herb need? Mint and lemon balm, sage and fennel have different requirements for their location that want to be taken into account. In addition, nutrients, water and light play a decisive role. After all, if the plants are well cared for during their growth, diseases and pests won’t worry me.
Tips for harvesting herbs
Herbal tea can be made from leaves, flowers, fruits or even roots. And when is the best time to harvest? Generally speaking, harvesting should always take place when the desired parts of the plant have fully developed. The time of day on which the plants are harvested is also important.
It is usually easy to tell whether leaves, flowers and fruits are ready for harvesting. Leaves and stems of fragrant plants such as lemon balm or peppermint are harvested before flowering and best in the morning. Their aroma is particularly intense then. The flowers of mallow or camomile only open fully when there is enough sun, so pick them in the midday hours.
When it comes to harvesting seeds and fruits, for example fennel seeds, I regularly check whether the seeds are fully ripe and almost fall off by themselves. You need a bit of patience there!
Harvesting herb roots, such as marshmallow, is a bit more time-consuming, and it is not so easy to tell when they are ripe. More about this elsewhere. Whether roots, seeds, flowers or leaves, for drying I bundle the tea herbs into bunches or lay them out on paper. Then dry them gently in a warm, airy room.
Preparing the herbs
Immediately after harvesting, I prepare the herbs for drying. To do this, I sift through all the plant parts and remove withered leaves, faded flowers and dirty or diseased plant parts. I put the herbs in a drying room. This should be warm, airy and preferably without sunlight. A well-ventilated attic would be the ideal place. A kitchen window also works, as long as the sun does not shine directly into it.
Please always ensure that there is sufficient air movement between the herbs. This way, moisture can be transported away well and there is less risk of mould. After about two weeks, the herbs are rustle-dry, then they are rubbed and packed.
Harvest and dry herbs
A high-quality herbal tea made from camomile consists only of blossoms. But when harvesting, it is often far too tedious to pick the blossoms individually. Therefore, I usually cut the whole herb, pluck the flowers off individually later and lay them out on paper or in a drying frame. I harvest aromatic tea herbs like mint, lemon balm or sage before they flower and tie them with parcel string into small bunches with a few stems. Before that, the individual stems are freed from the lower leaves.
Fruits of fennel or caraway need to be dried further after harvesting. To do this, I cut the harvested cones into smaller pieces and place them in the drying frame to save space. The fruits usually fall off during drying and can easily be collected.
You can’t prevent herbs from losing some of their flavour during drying. I bundle them into bunches and hang them upside down in a warm, airy place protected from the sun. This allows the aromatic plant juices to seep into the leaves or flowers before and during drying. This maximises the aroma.
Herbal tea recipe
Herbs develop their aroma best when infused with boiling water. For mild stomach and intestinal disorders and bloating, a tea made according to an old recipe is best. Mix a good heaped tablespoon each of dried marigold blossoms, caraway fruits, peppermint leaves and chamomile blossoms and infuse with about one litre of boiling water. The infusion is stirred, covered and strained after about 10 minutes. If fresh herbs are used, double the amount given above.